Just like people, cats can get stressed out – and it’s never a good thing. Cats that are feeling highly stressed for long periods of time can show behavioral changes, and may even stop eating or suffer health problems. Here are some causes of stress for cats and what you can do about it.
Cats will be cats
Not being able to express normal cat behaviors is a source of stress for cats – just like it is for dogs. If there are no toys to play with, nothing to scratch, and nowhere to explore or climb, cats don’t just get bored – they get stressed out.
How you can help:
- Provide plenty of toys, particularly toys that are meant to be like small prey. Cats are also foragers, so puzzle toys and hidden food are also a source of stimulation.
- Have lots of scratching surfaces, especially until you know what kinds your cat prefers. Try cardboard, carpet, and rope; experiment with vertical and horizontal surfaces.
- Cat trees, platforms, and shelves all give cats places to climb and explore.
Cats want to get along with you
Another stressor is a poor relationship with you, the owner. This can be because the cat didn’t get enough handling as a kitten, but it could also be because an owner may not understand cat behavior, or because an owner doesn’t give a consistent message about the cat’s behavior.
How you can help:
- Avoid using punishment. Your cat doesn’t understand why you are yelling or squirting it with a water bottle. Instead, reward the behaviors you want to see.
- Be consistent. If you don’t want your cat to jump on the kitchen counter, or drink out of your water glass, redirect her every time you see her do it – don’t let her get away with it some of the time but flip out at other times.
- Understand that cats have normal, natural behaviors that require an outlet – see the section above.
- Spend time with your kitty. Playing with an interactive toy and spending time brushing and cuddling (to the cat’s comfort, of course), can help increase your bond.
I hate that guy
Inter-cat conflict is another big source of stress. If one of your cats starts acting out, it could be because she’s being bullied. If she’s urinating outside the litterbox, there could be a medical issue – or your other cat may not be letting her near the litter; if one cat seems hungry but is losing weight, another cat may be protecting the food bowl.
How you can help:
- Introduce new cats gradually and provide lots of positive associations, like treats and food, so cats learn to like being together from the start.
- Provide plenty of resources. You need at least as many litterboxes as you have cats, and an extra beyond that is even better. Don’t make them share food or water.
- Make sure there are plenty of surfaces to climb. Cats often need high vantage points and escape routes to feel safe.
- Provide safe spaces. Tunnels, boxes, or in extreme cases, different rooms, give cats places where they can feel safe from intruders.
What are the signs of stress?
As with humans and other animals, stress causes strange behaviors and medical problems. Some possible signs of stress include:
- Decreased appetite, weight loss
- Changes in grooming – either letting themselves get matted, or grooming compulsively and losing hair
- Lethargy and decrease in play, exploration, and other activities
- Hiding, or being hyper-vigilant
- Urinating around the house, excessive facial rubbing, scratching furniture
- Becoming more vocal
- Aggression towards you or other cats
If your cat is acting out, she’s not doing it to annoy you – there’s usually something wrong. If there is no medical explanation, it could be stress. The things cats do when they are stressed are often the things that lead to them being given up. If you’re at the end of your rope, please talk to your veterinarian to see how you can provide a stress-free environment for your cat.